Work Smart, Play Smart

Businesses are facing a whirlwind of turning points resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent “Great Resignation” period. It’s getting harder and harder to adapt and survive, especially in the ever-changing hospitality industry, but the best companies forge ahead.

Life in the trenches of a restaurant is stressful, perhaps a bit unnecessarily at times. As leaders who are focused on making our business stronger through thoughtful problem solving, we have had to take a hard look at how to meet that particular challenge. 

La Vida Hospitality believes in working as smart as you play, and encourages employees to Enjoy The Ride, a tried-and-true mantra for our approach to the work-life balance. 

We are keenly aware of the grind of our industry, making the need for a balanced life crucial while creating a mentality of awareness in the workplace. Although we always tried to foster a stress-free environment, we were not focused on the steps to drive it on a daily basis. Boy, did that all change in the blink of an eye. 

Our good-natured intent quickly became the priority of our organization as a post-COVID era had all businesses competing for team members in the same pool. Fast forward to 2022: La Vida is better organized and everyone is literally enjoying the ride. We have valued team members dedicated to the cause and we are actively investing in building the organization we always believed in.

How We Roll: Working Thoughtfully , Embracing Individuality

You have to start somewhere when it comes to impacting your team’s values and spreading a positive attitude. We believe it starts with the definition of what you want your organizational culture to be. After inviting managers and stakeholders to a two-day brainstorming summit at the beach, thought leaders debuted an intentional tenet for our company called How We Roll:

This 100-percent collaborative process is the result of long, meaningful (sometimes brutally honest) conversations. Most importantly, they are true to our company and give us a dedicated path to our culture, one based on transparency and collaboration.  


Enlivening Culture vs. Setting Culture

Setting the culture is easy, especially when employees already enjoy coming to work, but enlivening the culture has to be figured out on the fly. How We Roll needs to be front of mind, not just a buzzy chart on the wall. How do you practice what you preach?

Enlivening the culture starts with an effective plan, an inclusive idea able to be authentically communicated and practical in its expectation. You cannot force it. You cannot fake it. You can only plant the seed and watch it grow organically. Everyone enlivens the culture together, as a symbiotic organism, and individuals understand what to do and how to do it without skipping a single step of service for fear of rotting the entire plant. 

But investing financial resources alone is not enough to get things rolling; telling a group of people they work within a strong company culture, encouraging them to make connections with each other, and banding together in good faith doesn’t necessarily enliven the overall culture. It is an ongoing process at La Vida nurtured through a series of programs, events, and celebrations to facilitate these connections and prove it to our staff.

Five-Step Plan: Best Place for Hospitality Workers to Thrive 

Our five-step plan begins with creating the “best place for hospitality workers to thrive,” a lofty goal that we continue to chase every day. We focus on team development and define it as our team cycle which includes things like recruitment and hiring, onboarding and training, as well as evaluation of compensation and benefits. We strive to empower our employees by coaching them for long-term success. 

The second part is constant communication about the happenings of the company. Not just things to get the job done, but things that focus on our personality like being human. We share stories, celebrate our successes, and dole out positive vibes with our “Fist Bump” program. We want to build up how much people care about each other.  

Third, we include Team Development in all of our strategic plans and budgets. Unit Leaders are dinged in their reviews if they do not support culture initiatives or spend their team relations budgets. The goal? Develop the resources and accountability at all levels to build our culture.   

Fourth, adopt a coaching mentality. We feel managers need to manage systems and coaches need to coach the team. We want our leaders to think of their roles as coaches of the teams they work with. This allows for people bettering themselves as team members and people.

Finally, we want to show the Work Smart, Play Smart demands of the restaurant industry must be balanced with the enjoyment of hospitality in our own lives. Being overworked and low on passion isn’t going to make our team better. Instead, we go to great lengths to have inventive fun and therefore bond in memorable ways outside the workplace as much as possible. 

For example, at our Crooked Hammock location in Lewes, DE, we have a recurring team outing for anyone (and their families) to get out of the restaurant routine and enjoy the outdoors. Team activities include bike rides, nature hikes and a beach brunch. The company’s biggest party of the year is actually a celebration of creativity. We get dressed up in our fanciest duds for a paparazzi-worthy red carpet party to toast to our own film festival where each of our restaurants produce a team-representative film.

Our Trip of a Lifetime contest sends team members who participated in an employee referral program to a five-star resort in Hawaii. And we recently sent managers, who made good on personal goals, on a sailing trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a paid week of rest and relaxation. We want to reward people for going the extra mile, while making sure everyone enjoys life as much as work. 

Share Your Successes 

If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? Maybe. Maybe not. But if there’s a chance to actually make a sound, you should bring a bullhorn. We want our culture shared loudly enough in the woods so our guests and the general public can hear it. Whether it is a social media post, or collaborative video, the efforts are more than rewarded with the morale benefit. 

Now – and this might not sound like the most rigorous data-driven insight in the world – but these days our team just seems happier and the attitude rubs off on new team members who desire the same environment. In a way, it has a self-perpetuating effect and gets us pointed downhill with the snowball picking up momentum as it grows bigger.   

Where We Are Today

Investing in our culture and team have proven to be invaluable to us. And we’re just getting started. La Vida Hospitality will launch BeInvoLVed, an ambitious initiative focused on promoting mental, emotional, physical, and social wellness.

The roller-coaster ride – stemming from COVID and the subsequent “Great Resignation” period – is far from over but we feel focused and invigorated on being a team-driven company having a positive effect on our communities. We are excited to see where it takes us.